Ray stepped into the corridor while Bader and Otto crunched through the debris behind him. “We have to stop Rikert," he said, turning o the GIES agents. “He’s about to—”
“Murder a bunch of ADs,” Bader filled in, then cleared her throat as she explained. “We may have overheard some of your conversation with Rikert.”
“S’why we busted through the door in the first place,” Otto affirmed, holding up a small object Ray took to be a listening device. “Policing is one thing, but I didn't sign on for no bloody murder."
"What he said," Bader agreed.
"In that case…” Ray pointed to the nearest of a pair of abandoned carts a few meters down the hall from Rikert's office… “I think I see our ride."
"Hot damn,” was Bader's comment, and she made tracks for the cart, where a Cherrii staff member was in the process of climbing into the cab.
Ray, a few paces behind Bader, didn't hear what she said to the staffer immediately backed out of the cart, his skin mottling in what Ray guessed was panic.
By the time he reached the cart, Bader was already in the driver’s seat.
Ray took shotgun and Otto popped into the back seat, where he leaned forward so his head hung between Ray and Bader, bringing with him the odors of dust, smoke, and candy.
“Where to?" Bader asked, bringing up the station's schematic on the console.
“AD Holding Facility,” Ray said. “Tower One, level one,”
Bader studied holo-map. “There’s no AD Holding Facility listed on T-One-one.”
“There,” Ray said, pointing to the section designated Upper Cargo Hold. “That’s where they’re keeping them.”
“Bastards,” Otto muttered.
Bader said nothing, but jaw was tight as she put the cart in motion.
"Best hold onto something," Otto warned, easing back into his seat. “She drives like a maniac.”
“As long as we get there in time to stop Rikert,” Ray said.
Then the cart leaped forward, and Ray wrapped his hand around edge of the roof.
“Told you,” Otto called, letting out a whoop as Bader made a turn so sharp, the cart’s left wheels left the deck.
Ray didn't say anything more, but he did send up a fervent prayer that they’d not only get to the holding facility in time, but also in one piece.
Meanwhile, over in Tower One, Jessyn was leading the way to the very same holding cells Ray sought.
Behind her, Kaara seemed to be processing the terse explanation Mo had provided as to her presence on Libra.
“So, your name is not Ambrosia Purefoi?” Kaara asked as Jessyn, following Dorothy’s instruction, followed the leftward branch of the tunnel.
“Nope,” Mo replied, the soft denial sounding loud in the narrow space.
“And you did not come to Libra to attend the auction?”
“Baby,” Mo said. “We came to stop the auction.”
“Good,” Kaara replied shortly, her rich voice flat and surprisingly cold, accurately reflecting the woman’s emotional state.
Curious, Jessyn glanced back. “If you have such a low opinion of the auction, why are you here?”
Kaara’s breath caught and shame flushed her skin to indigo as her eyes sought Mo’s.
“I showed you mine,” Mo said, but not unkindly.
“Zyx, my employer, has an interest in a particular artist, who is said to be on the block,” she said.
“So why didn’t Zyx make the trip, himself?” Mo asked.
“Because he wanted to punish me,” Kaara said. “He blames me for the loss of several antiquities from his estate.” She paused, looked at Mo. “Antiquities lost during the weekend we were together,” she said.
“Ah,” Mo said.
“That was your work?” Kaara asked after a moment’s silence.
“It was,” Mo said, her own voice tight with a regret that Jessyn experienced as a sort of sticky, prickling sensation. “But why would he blame you? You weren’t on security.”
“Oh, he blamed them, as well. But Zyx is a great one for blaming everyone in his circle when things do not go as he wishes.”
“And yet you’re still working for him,” Mo pointed out.
“It is not a matter of choice,” Kaara said, but just then Jessyn picked up a frisson of panic alongside a coarse underlayment of cruelty and held up a hand.
There were sapients up ahead of them, perhaps twenty meters distant.
“Incoming,” she whispered, holding up three fingers.
Mo nodded and hefted her shoe, holding it like a stylish hammer.
At the same time, Jessyn once again raised the veil, and the three women silently moved forward.
“I have a question,” Harry said.
He and Siane had reached the second intersection since leaving Ore Transfer. The directional holo-signs told him that if they continued forward, they would reach the metallurgic and the holo-signs indicated that continuing forward would bring them to smelting, while the left corridor led to Electrostatic Separation.
Harry’s inner twelve year old regretting not having the time to check that out, but they were on prison break time, so he followed Siane as she took the right-hand route to the elevator bank.
“You said you had a question?” Siane prompted.
“Right.” He glanced back, then forward.
“There’s no one close enough to hear,” she said, tapping her temple. “I’d feel them.”
“Right,” Harry said again. “That’s sort of what I wanted to ask about.”
“I was wondering, if you’ve gotten strong enough you can put a handful of sapients to sleep with a thought, why haven’t you made your own attempt to break out before now?”
At that she stopped, turned, stared. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No.” Harry also stopped and studied her. “I mean, I get there’s a difference between a few sapients in one room and working your way through an entire security system—“
“Especially when that security system includes the NHN.”
Harry’s eyes narrowed. “And what is an NHN?”
“A neuro-harmonic net,” Siane explained, still staring.
“Not ringing any bells,” Harry said.
She huffed and shook her head. “Basically, Cerberus runs a continual series of sub-harmonics that block the majority of telempathic abilities. It runs through the entire prison. I’ve been sense blind since I boarded, and until that monkey thing of yours struck, I haven’t been able to put a rat to sleep. It’s been—“
"Shit,” Harry said.
“If anything, that’s an understatement.”
“No,” he said. “I mean yes, but, what I mean is, we didn’t know about the NHN. If we had, I never would have let Jessyn board this station.”
Again Siane stopped, turned. “Are you saying you brought my daughter on a prison break?”
“Our daughter,” Harry corrected, then waved a “just a minute” hand at her while he activated his comm. “Scarecrow to Glynda, come in.” He paused, then tried again. “Come on Je…”
“Jesus wept,” Ray breathed as Bader swerved around a party of techs who were opening up the deck.
He figured the techs were trying to work around the prison’s AI, which had veered from classic Wizard of Oz quotes to a series of musical numbers that Ray didn’t recognize, but that Otto said came from an ancient stage play called The Wiz.
And while Ray might appreciate the sentiment of the singer exhorting them to ease on down the road, he didn’t think it suited the ambiance of Bader’s white-knuckle steering and underuse of the brakes.
“Let me guess,” he said as she fish-tailed out of the corridor and into the wider passage of the docking ring, “you were a Formula One skim racer before you joined the Marines.”
“Nope,” she said, pushing the tiny engine to a heated whine as she barreled along the concourse.
“Bader don’t like talking about the Marines,” Otto called from the rear of the cart. “On account of The Incident.”
“Incident?” Ray echoed, then held his breath as Bader swung to avoid another cart, coming from the other direction.
“Did I say you could talk about my business?” Bader asked.
“No,” Otto said. “But you never said I couldn’t.”
“Wait, your name is Eugene?” Ray turned to Otto.
“It’s an old family name,” Otto said, only a little defensively. “An’ Callie ‘ere—“
Callie? Ray mouthed at Otto, who grinned and nodded. “She’s just tryin’ to avoid anyone learning her tragic backstory.”
“Why?” Ray asked.
“It’s not tragic,” Bader spat out. “But it is fucked. She hauled the wheel around and screeched to a halt so quickly, Ray’s stomach continued on a few meters. “I guess you’d know something about that, Lt. Slater.
Ray, sucked in a breath and realized she’d stopped within a hand’s breadth of the fragged bus Rikert had stolen.
“Showtime,” he murmured, and followed Bader out of the cart. Otto tumbled out behind him, and all three strode up to the closed door that, according to the holo-signs, led to the Deck One Lounge, Hospitality Office, and the Upper Cargo Hold.
“Bingo,” Otto said, and strode forward, only to bounce back, holding his nose, when the door wouldn’t open. “What the hells?”
“Hold on,” Ray said, and angled towards the door’s controls. He pressed audio, leaned in and said, “There’s no place like home.”
The door opened.
“You have to be shitting me,” Bader said.
“It wasn’t my idea,” Ray told her, stepping through the door.
Otto and Bader followed while the music switched to a group of munchkins declaring the wicked witch was dead.
“I’m guessing the music wasn’t your idea either?” Bader asked.
“You guess right,” Ray said as the trio started down the corridor. “Besides, it’s not a witch that’s going to die here, today.”
He spared the two rebellious agents a glance. They looked at each other, then at the bus, then at Ray.
“I got no problem with that,” Bader said.
“Me neither,” Otto said. “But I reckon we’ll be looking for a new job, once this is all over.”
At that Bader snorted out a laugh. “I’m pretty sure we’re gonna be looking for a lawyer, when this is all over.”
/Scarecrow to Glynda or Em, please respond./
“Forgive us, Father, we were busy,” Jessyn replied as she stepped over the unconscious figure of a gray-clad security operative.
How fortunate that she’d learned that particular kick from Eineen Marifanne. Of course, Eineen could render an opponent unconscious without having to use an empathic suggestion of a severe and embarrassing itch, but Jessyn was still learning.
The other two bodies were splayed on the deck behind the three women.
“I am sorry about your shoe,” Kaara said to Mo, holding up the remains of the strappy sandal she’d used against her chosen foe.
“It gave its heel for a good cause,” Mo said, glancing at the groaning man she’d laid out with a quick snap of her shoe to his temple, before activating her own comm. “Hey SC, what’s the what?”
/Just wanted to—/ he began, but he was cut off by another, more distant voice asking /Who the hells is Em?/
/Em is another part of the team…/ Harry explained.
“Who are you talking to?” Mo asked.
Jessyn felt her heart trip. “Is that Mother?” she asked. “I mean, did you find the Ruby slipper?”
/Yes,/ Harry replied, /but—/
“What is a ruby slipper?” Kaara asked.
“Not what, who,” Mo said. “And she’s Glynda’s mother.”
/Who are you talking to?/ Harry asked.
“A friend,” Mo said, rolling her eyes at Kaara. “So what can we do for you?”
/I just needed to know you were safe/ Harry said. /Si—the slipper —just told me about some harmonic net./
/Did you just call me a slipper?/ Siane asked.
Jessyn felt a tickle at the back of her throat. It had been so long since she’d heard her mother’s voice.
“Old news, Scarecrow,” Mo said, grinning at Jessyn.
“I am well,” Jessyn assured, grinning back. “And we are en route to the Munchkins, now.”
/Good,” Harry said. “That’s—hey! Watch it!/
Mo’s brows shot up. “Scarecrow? Are you okay?”
/Yup. Great. Just let me—ouch! Gotta run. Scarecrow out!/
“That was interesting,” Mo observed.
“Very,” Rikert agreed.
Which was when Jessyn realized her mistake, because in the joy of discovering her mother, she had let down her guards, allowing Rikert, Claude, and three members of the security staff to approach.
“Well, this could have gone better,” Mo decided.
Harry, ducking just in time to catch Siane’s fist before she could deliver a second punch—the first had clipped him on the chin. “Listen,” he began.
“No.” She let him keep the fist, but only so she could bring up a knee, which he barely managed to block using their joined hands.
Before she could move again, he grabbed her leg with under the knee with one hand while keeping hold of her punching fist with the other, robbing her of her balance long enough to spin and press her against the bulkhead where he could use his weight against her.
“Listen,” he said, again. “You want to beat the shit out of me, fine. I’m just asking you to wait until after we’ve escaped this tin can.”
For a moment, they held as they were, both utterly still.
He tried to see, sense, what was going on in those gilded brown eyes, but there was nothing there he recognized.
“If anything happens to her,” Siane said at last, “anything—I will kill you. I will kill you slowly, painfully, and messily. And then I will dance in your blood.”
“If anything happens to her,” Harry said, “I’ll let you.”
He meant it, and because she’d know he meant it, he dropped his hands and stepped away, daring her to do her worst.
And Harry, more than anyone, knew what Siane’s worst could be.
She straightened, stared. “You shouldn’t have brought her.”
“Do you think I could have stopped her?”
At that she let out a sound that was half laugh, half something else. “You weren’t even supposed to know her. You weren’t supposed to know about… any of this.” Her gesture included their surroundings, but he understood it to mean more.
“Yeah,” he said, turning and continuing towards the elevator, and their escape route. “I hear that a lot.”